You are here:Home»News»Commission offers next steps for grappling with Pennsylvania's massive pension debt

Commission offers next steps for grappling with Pennsylvania's massive pension debt

Commission offers next steps for grappling with Pennsylvania's massive pension debt Image courtesy of the state of Pennsylvania

The big numbers related to Pennsylvania’s public pension debt are somewhat mind-boggling. According to a September report from Truth in Accounting, a nonprofit organization that aims to find out what states’ balance sheets truly look like, the commonwealth has $42.8 billion in unfunded pension obligations and another $29.8 billion in underfunded retiree health care benefits.

For the sake of comparison, the state’s annual budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year is $32.7 billion – which means if the state devoted every penny it takes in to nothing but closing that gap, it would still take more than two years to do it.

Even in the aftermath of 2017, reforms that were designed to at least keep the pension problem from getting worse, many lawmakers have argued that continuing to live with this looming obligation has kept the state from attending to other priorities like education and the opioid crisis and forced taxes to be higher than they otherwise would be.

The 2017 legislation also provided for a commission to come up with fresh ideas for chipping away at the pension debt, and that commission recently released its report. Tasked with eliminating $3 billion in debt over the course of 30 years, members of the Public Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission, in a news conference late last week, reported that their recommendations would in fact save as much as $10 billion over that time frame.

One of the key proposals was simply that the Legislature make its obligated annual payments to the pension funds.

“As the report details, as numerous witnesses detailed, there was a long period in which the state failed to live up to that obligation,” Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella, the commission’s vice chairman, said during the news conference. “It is commendable that this governor and this Legislature have for the past three years – and I haven't seen the budget address he's giving in a few weeks, but hopefully for four – have fully funded the actuarially required contribution of funds. That is a hopeful new chapter in our history here, but it is vital – it is vital – that that chapter continue in the years ahead.”

Gov. Tom Wolf followed up Torsella’s comments by declaring that his budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which will be released on Feb. 5, will aim to make the required pension payments.

“That unfunded pension liability … in many ways is a residue of the of the past, of bipartisan administrations and General Assemblies deciding not to pay the full bill,” Wolf said. “We are paying the full bill now. That was one of the recommendations of the commission, and I will, Treasurer Torsella, will commit to at least proposing that we continue to do that as we move forward.”

Another element of the commission’s report is the establishment of a Consolidated Central Pension Investment Office. This entity would be responsible for monitoring how pension funds are managed in the wake of revelations that in many years the management fees for the pensions have exceeded the contributions of state workers.

Given that the proposed office and some of the other recommendations require legislative action to implement, the commission members were asked how much impact the report can have if lawmakers don’t follow up.

“My colleagues [in the Legislature” have been paying close attention to the work that the pension commission" has been doing, said Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill Haven, the chairman of the commission. “As a matter of fact … in the Senate, I believe a co-sponsor memo has already been circulated discussing the fact that consolidation is an important element and a recommendation of the report.”

Torsella emphasized that regardless of lawmakers actions, there are many areas that can go into effect more or less immediately, such as tying the investment of funds to stock market indexes and improving the transparency of the boards that manage the funds.

“I don't think any of these themes will startle people,” he said. “And I'm hopeful that for the few that require legislation, that will happen.”

Original Article

Add comment

Submitted By:

Nate C.

Nate C.

Please send any submissions or corrections via e-mail.

Nate Covington (about me)

Latest Comments

  • William R Seese Construction

    Nathan Covington 08.07.2019 08:52
    @Paul - Contact the Barrett Township Maintenance Department - John Seese @ 570-595-7866
  • William R Seese Construction

    Paul 05.07.2019 17:16
    Hi Can you tell me who to talk to about getting a speed bump on a barrett twp road?
  • Barrett Township Municipal Building

    Nathan Covington 01.07.2019 08:08
    @Jessie - No "public" parking areas that I am aware of. You'll likely want to make friends with someone ...
  • Barrett Township Municipal Building

    Jessie 30.06.2019 20:37
    Does anyone know if (or who to contact) about public parking lots for overnight parking? Just moved to ...
  • Barrett Township Municipal Building

    Nathan Covington 09.06.2019 08:31
    @Patricia - can you email me ( with more details about the crime you are ...
  • Barrett Township Municipal Building

    Patricia MacCabe 07.06.2019 14:34
    WE NEED POLICE! We are being over run with stealing, aggressive driving, and crime. What was once ...
  • Boar Pit Barbecue

    Tina 04.06.2019 08:54
    Welcome to the area, Richard! I'll keep you in mind for any future events. :)
  • Barrett Township Maintenance Department

    Nate Covington 20.05.2019 09:51
    Answers: 1. Assuming it is not a State road (e.g. PennDot), talk to the Township administration to ...
  • Barrett Township Maintenance Department

    Joseph P Bonessi 20.05.2019 09:37
    Hi, Can you assist me or advice me of where to go from here? Two questions... (1) How can I find out ...
  • Rotary Club of the Pocono Mountains

    Elaine Jackson 11.05.2019 16:10
    Am interested in sponsoring 3-banners for "Banners Through Barrett" Please let me know more about ...

Are you ready?


Prepare for a disaster in 3 easy steps:
In an emergency, knowing what to do is your best defense. Start now by learning the risks, making an emergency plan and getting involved to help others.
[Read More at]

You may also be interested in joining our Local Community Watch

Are you drinking clean water?
If you're not sure, get your water tested by a local, accredited lab.



Support Local Businesses!


Community E-Newsletter

  • Receive weekly notifications when new articles posted to this site:


Get Social!


Buck Hill Falls



Member Login